John Wright, a photographer with decades of experience in portraiture, has joined the Ephimera marketplace this week. Based in London, John kicked off his career photographing portraits of high-profile figures and musical acts like U2, Lady Gaga, Paul McCartney, Rihanna, Michael Jackson and many more. He has worked commercially with luxury brands including Louis Vuitton, Dior, Fendi, Elie Saab, and other notable entities. Nowadays, John has shifted his focus from commercial portraiture to creating more personal work – in particular “Clouded Judgements”.
“Clouded Judgements” takes the viewer through a series of carefully staged high-production environmental portraits, all featuring a human subject accompanied with looming clouds. Although the environments compliment the subjects, the featured characters almost seem to be pulled away from the scene – distracted in a dissociative state. The body of work is a visual essay exploring emotional response and the impact it has on mental health on a daily basis. We sat down with John to ask him about the series, why he created it, and how it has impacted his own mental health.
Ephimera: What drew you to creating a series about these momentary experiences of distraction, dissociation, and self-doubt?
John: I felt that I wanted to do something, through my work, that was a response to the proliferation of instances of what is generalized as ‘Depression and Anxiety’. I was struck by how many people around me, from all walks of life, all age groups, all socioeconomic backgrounds, all ethnic backgrounds, seemed to be increasingly struggling with their emotional responses to the world around them. And I was in fact finding myself increasingly lost in the same struggles too. As an artist, I don’t feel satisfied when I just create aesthetically pleasing images. I want to push myself further to create work that can challenge and create a dialogue with the collector. These images are designed to prompt the collector to reflect on their own frame of mind at any given time.
Ephimera: We see a visual metaphor of the cloud that is prominent in each image; sometimes looming over the subject, and other times directly interacting with them. In your mind, why was the cloud an appropriate choice for representing this distracted state?
The metaphor of the cloud in our emotional state is often referred to in Buddhism, Taoism and Taoist Yoga. Clouds are manifestations of an element passing from one form into another. They are constantly changing and they are by their essence, temporary. Buddhism and Taoist teachings ask us to remember this and to liken clouds to whatever emotional state we may find ourselves experiencing. In fact any experience or state is temporary and a cloud can be an ever present reminder of that. It is said in some translations that Buddha rose above the ‘clouds’ in his mind to fully attain awareness.
Ephimera: In Clouded Judgements #006 and #005, we see birds scattered throughout the scene, wandering outside the confines of their cage. Are we correct in assuming that this is a visual metaphor for freedom?
John: I LOVE that you picked up on this. Yes, the cage is there to remind us of the concept of freedom amidst our emotional distractions. In fact my favourite use of the cage is in Clouded Judgements #004 where it only appears as a shadow on the wall. I have written in my essays on Medium of the concept of freedom and our often deluded understanding of what ‘Freedom’ truly is. I used it in this context because so often, our emotional distress is linked to a sense of uncertainty about the future and our perception of how secure the future version of us may or may not be. Anxiety in the modern Western world could often be more fully described as Status Anxiety. Our world is changing so quickly that it can be difficult to confidently predict that our position and our sense of self will survive the ever-present changes that confront us. I find it ironic that we pursue freedom and defend our “Freedoms” while at the same time feel distress when presented with uncertainty. To me, “Uncertainty” is the only true expression of freedom. When our next step is undecided for us, then we are truly free.
Photography was my ‘profession’. Now, photography is a medium that delivers my ‘expression’ in response to the pain I see around me.John Wright
Ephimera: How important is the connection between mental health and art making? What effect does it have for the artist?
John: I can only answer this from my personal perspective. For me, creating work that can help the viewer question their mental or emotional state is at the core of what I do. I have created so many images of such a vast array of subjects and historically I did that for commercial gain. Photography was my ‘profession’. Now, photography is a medium that delivers my ‘expression’ in response to the pain I see around me. It is no longer enough for me to deliver aesthetic pleasure. Photography is such a powerful thing and I now want to use it to communicate what I feel. I want to share my perception and understanding through my images. Hopefully I can do that in a way that will speak kindly to the viewer. Hopefully collectors of my work can hear my message in a way that they can relate to.
Ephimera: Did you find that after creating Clouded Judgements, was it a way of processing your own feelings of self-doubt? How was the process for your own mental health?
John: Without doubt the creation of these images was my way of giving form to my own emotional struggles. I am a man who wants for nothing, a man who has enjoyed acclaim and recognition through my work. A man with a beautiful, healthy family and the owner of successful businesses. I love and I am loved. Yet somehow, from nowhere, in 2019, acute anxiety struck me and left me unable to leave my house for weeks. I was a wreck. I was afraid to cook macaroni cheese and I could not answer the telephone. When I got well again, I had to start trying to communicate that experience in my work.
Meditation, medical help, philosophy, positive introspection and philosophical study helped me return to health. Clouded Judgements is one of my collections that seeks to give body to the emotional and mental processes that can lead to a collapse of the type I experienced. Clouded Judgements #004 is my flash card for checking myself when I feel my own clouds descend.
Four new works from “Clouded Judgements” will be available to collect this Friday, August 20th, at 1:00PM EST.